CAMPAIGN: The big DoH countdown to a smoking ban

In February 2006, Parliament passed a law making all work places and public areas in England smoke-free from 1 ­July 2007. Fishburn Hedges was hired in September 2006 to help smooth the implementation of the legislation.

Smokefree England: press calls and photo shoots promoted key ‘countdown’ dates
Smokefree England: press calls and photo shoots promoted key ‘countdown’ dates

Client Department of Health
PR team Fishburn Hedges
Campaign Smokefree England
Timescale September 2006-July 2007
Budget £100,000-plus

To secure maximum and sustainable compliance with the legislation from the date of implementation. To deal with any fallout from the negative ­effects of the legislation on leisure and hospitality outlets, hookah/shisha parlours and coffee shops. To negate the influence of sceptical stakeholders. To reach ‘difficult’ businesses, particularly SMEs and those with fleet ­vehicles.

Strategy and plan
The campaign strategy was three-pronged. First, Fishburn Hedges got in early to ensure widest possible buy-in from stakeholders. Relationships were established across the health, business, ­leisure and hospitality and local ­government sectors, and links were established with more than 350 representative organisations. A Ministerial Stakeholder Reference Group was set up and Smokefree England representatives spoke at more than 50 stakeholder events throughout England.

The team harnessed existing relationships with regional and local campaigning bodies. Meetings were held with regional and local-level bodies, including Smokefree Alliances, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, local ­authorities and NHS primary care trusts. A ‘Campaign Toolkit’ was also produced.

Finally, the agency worked with its national and trade press contacts to manage the media interest. Photo shoots and press calls were organised for ‘set-piece’ announcements, such as the 1 July implementation date (released on 1 December 2006), the 100-day countdown on 23 March, and the 50-day countdown (12 May).

Fishburn Hedges also contacted all TV and radio ‘soap’ production companies to promote smokefree as the norm. Both East Enders and ­Coronation Street subsequently incorporated the smoke-free issue into ­storylines.

Measurement and evaluation
The campaign garnered 2,771 pieces of coverage. Metrica claims 89 per cent of this was favourable, while 65 per cent of adults in England were ­exposed to the coverage 25 times each on average.

In May, before the advertising campaign had started, there was 89 per cent awareness among businesses that the legislation was imminent. Eighty-two per cent cited PR or stakeholder channels as sources. Even after an £8m TV advertising campaign, roughly the same number of businesses cited awareness of the legislation as a result of TV news and programmes (44 per cent) as they did from adverts (48 per cent). By mid-June, the proportion of businesses citing PR channels was 90 per cent.

Tracking of local-authority data ­revealed that, one month after the legislation came into effect, compliance levels stood at 97.7 per cent.

‘The comms programme played a ­vital role in ensuring the pub trade knew about the new legislation,’ says the British Institute of Innkeeping’s director of membership Steve Howe.


Rebecca Gudgeon (l), director (public sector and social change), Trimedia Harrison Cowley: They say there’s no smoke without fire – if this is the case, then Fishburn Hedges must have been a veritable furnace of activity in the months leading up to July. I cannot recall seeing any of the coverage, but one of the features of public sector or social-change work is that much of it can go unnoticed by the man – or woman – on the street.

All of us who enjoy places on rosters are becoming ever more adept at using increasingly sophisticated techniques and tactics to ensure messages reach targeted audiences with pinpoint accuracy. This is certainly what Fishburn Hedges has achieved. Being neither a smoker nor the proprietor of a hookah/shisha parlour, I was probably not a key target. Do I remember the coverage or creative tactics? No. Was I aware of the legislation and changes required? Absolutely. So, job done.

Fishburn Hedges has also done an incredible job of reaching so many audiences with such clear messaging. The logistical challenge of managing a campaign such as this should not be under-estimated.

Social change campaigns can be incredibly difficult to evaluate. When you are looking to influence attitudes or effect behavioural change, simple media measurements do not provide meaningful insight. This campaign has benefited from being able to use DH research to measure its impact.

This was a highly effective campaign, which proved that when the messaging and the targeting are right, campaigns do not have to rely on stunts, gimmicks or highly memorable creatives to change behaviour.

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